India will replace America as the leader of the Free World in 50 years’ time, said Tony Abbott, the former prime minister of Australia, at the just concluded Raisina Dialogue 2022, a conference on geopolitics attended by world leaders, held in New Delhi.

Abbott said it was obvious that India was going to shape the world “once it decided to take its place on the world stage.”

But S. Jaishankar, External Affairs Minister of India, was not looking that far ahead. He was looking at the next 25 years and seeing three key areas where India fell short.

“The first is that we didn’t pay enough attention to social indicators and human resources. Second, we didn’t focus enough on manufacturing and technology. Third, we didn’t give importance to hard security as we should have,” Jaishankar told the audience.

Jaishankar said India’s emphasis in the next 25 years would be on building “capability, capability and capability” in every domain.

India’s foreign minister articulated his defining foreign policy stance. “We must be confident about who we are. It’s better to engage the world with a sense of who we are, rather than try to please them by being a pale imitation of who they are.”

Building capability and self-identity would be the way forward for India. “This idea that others define us, that we need to get approval from some quarters, I think that’s an era we need to put behind us,” Jaishankar maintained.

Jaishankar hoped that in the next 25 years, India would be in the forefront of a globalisation that was more fair, more decentralised, and one that was “not leveraged or weaponised.”

This foreign policy vision is detailed in Jaishankar’s book, “The India Way: Strategies for an Uncertain World”.

India is projected in the book as a nation willing to take risks, a “decider and shaper rather than an abstainer”.

However, India abstaining on the Russia-Ukraine conflict at the UN Security Council would appear to contradict its risk-taking persona. 

India’s foreign minister had a handy answer: “In the Security Council, we have a plan. The problem is we need to have other people with a similar plan.”

On Ukraine, Jaishankar was focused on “stopping the fighting and starting the talking.” 

But not everyone is skeptical of India’s position on Ukraine. Putin’s aggression has likely steered the European Union toward India. From the EU’s standpoint, India emerges as a relevant, important strategic partner, given its commitment to rules-based international governance.

Navigating geopolitical differences appears to be the recommended norm in the emerging world order. The EU has close ties with China, based on its geo-economic compulsions. But its geopolitical differences with India do not rule out a possible Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the EU and India in the future.

To that extent, India’s definition of itself is shaped by the world’s perception of China. It’s fair to say, therefore, that India’s security alliances are shaped by China’s belligerence.*